Have any of the themes or stories in the Warcraft game world sparked any new ideas in your work? Is there anything about playing that sweeps you into a certain frame of mind that's creatively productive for you?
Not yet. I've expected them to, but so far they haven't, really. In part, that's because I don't generally write the brand of heroic, sword-and-sorcery fantasy you see in WoW. The fantasy I write is usually firmly grounded in this world. So, it's hard to see how Warcraft would lead me to ideas for stories or novels. I think, mostly, the two things are somewhat segregated in my head. Here is WoW, and over here is my writing. Also, there's that camp aspect of WoW I've mentioned, and my fiction rarely ventures into this sort of humor.
That said, though, I have often thought it could be great fun to write a short story or novel set on Azeroth. And I can't help but create elaborate backstories for all my characters and especially Shaharrazad. They just come to me, as I play. And I suppose that is me superimposing my own imagination, my own approach to fantasy, over WoW. Shaharrazad has not had a happy life, and is sort of a mess. She consorts with orcs, she drinks too much, she's bitter about having been sent away from Silvermoon, when all she really wanted was a life of leisure and magic. She has an uppity kid sister named Hanifah (another of my alts), whom she loathes. Hanifah is the "good" daughter, the one who became a paladin, instead of a warlock.
See? This stuff piles up, whether I go looking for it or not.
You've blogged about an uncertainty that Blizzard was fully aware of and comfortable with their adaptations of paganism and religion in the game. That's an area you deal with often enough yourself. What's your reaction to what Blizzard has shaped in WoW?
Hard question to answer. And, for the record, I talk too much. It's an occupational hazard.
But, yes, this came up recently in my LiveJournal over the "Staff of Equinex" quest that you take out in Feralas. First, we have the intentional misspelling of "equinox," followed by "Samha" (Samhain), ""Imbel" (Imbolc), "Byltane" (Beltane), and "Lahassa" (Lammas, Lughnasadh). And, as a writer and practicing witch, it's hard not to wonder why Blizzard bothered so slightly changing the names of the four Greater Sabbats. I wasn't offended, maybe more amused than anything, since these are still obviously references to Wiccan holy days. Why even bother changing Beltane to "Byltane?" Of course, to be fair, we have the Christian holidays renamed, as well, though it's obvious that "Pilgrim's Bounty" is American Thanksgiving and "Winter Veil" has so many of the secular trappings of Christmas.
Truthfully, I think various pagan religions come off better in WoW than the Judeo-Christian ones, that the game casts them in a better light. There's something inherently pagan about the game, and I think that just makes sense. I'm not saying that because I'm pagan. I probably would have been happier had Blizzard created strictly fictional holidays and suchlike for the games, and they wouldn't have been universal to all races. The orcs and humans would not celebrate the same festivals, any more than taurens and draenei would. If Azeroth had its own traditions that did not simply mirror those of various real-world religions and cultures, it would be a more interesting place, undoubtedly. All the goofy Christmas and "Nobelgarden" (an amalgamation of both Easter and Ostara), sometimes I find it grating, but no, it doesn't actually bother me. I just wonder if Blizzard worries about the evangelical Christians criticizing the game for promoting paganism and wonder if that might account for the half-hearted attempts at disguising the names of the sabbats.
Transformation is at the heart of so much of your work and the characters you've created. Do you think that games like WoW currently hold or show the potential to hold the capacity to allow players to try on new roles and identities in a transformative way?
I do think the potential is there, yes, but I have to say that I see very, very few people taking advantage of it. Though WoW is presented as roleplay, and though there are even RP-dedicated servers and guilds, from what I've seen, only a tiny percentage of the millions of people playing ever actually roleplay. And I'm talking about immersive, simulationist RP, wherein you are partaking of a sort of improvisational theater. I adore this sort of RP, and I've gotten a little bit of it via Second Life (though, generally SL is a mess, and the less said about that the better).
In WoW, I went in expecting genuine RP, because, after all, it's advertised as an MMORPG and, as I've noted, there are servers set aside, supposedly exclusively for RP. But I quickly learned how rarely anybody bothers to RP in WoW, regardless of server. Instead of playing a blood elf or a dwarf or a troll and trying to see the world through the eyes of those races, instead of playing that role, you mostly have people who are merely being themselves, navigating a cartoon avatar through this fictional landscape, gaming. Indeed, I encountered actual hostility and contempt towards RP, as if it was something too twee or silly to take seriously.
I was very angry, even bitter, about this at first, and it almost led to me giving up on the game after about a month. Because it just seems like such an awful waste. But, eventually, I came to accept WoW as what is truly is, a video game wherein players interact with other players, out of character, with very few people interested in being in character. Once I adopted that outlook, and dropped my RP expectations, I learned how to enjoy the game. I think it's much more honest to think of WoW as an MMOG, not an MMORPG.
Once you've had your fill of World of Warcraft, what's the game world you'd like to find yourself in? Modern, fantasy, sci-fi ...?
I'd love to see a good, intricate, hard SF, cyberpunk or steampunk MMORPG. Except maybe not quite as daunting as EVE Online. Also, a medieval China MMO, something like Jade Empire -- that would be marvelous. For the time being, though, I'm fairly happy with WoW, though I'm not the sort of player who is so enamored with the game that I won't point out what I perceive as shortcomings.
I'd love to see an MMORPG where players do roleplay, where the game more strongly encourages them to put on another skin, as it were, and become someone else. Where doing that was integral to getting through the game. The ability to interact with the game environment, NPCs and other players as your character would be necessary to succeed at the game. Mostly, more story, more roleplay, less game. That is, game that is obviously nothing but game. You can game on consoles -- though even there, I prefer games that do not constantly remind me I'm playing a game. Let me get lost in the fictional world, the way I do when I watch a movie or read a book. My ideal MMORPG would, essentially, be an interactive novel or movie, wherein the "players" constantly create a perpetual story.
Since you're known to roleplay as Nar'eth the Nebari in full, elaborate costume at SF cons, will we ever see you show up as any of your WoW characters at BlizzCon or other cons?
Creating and being Nar'eth was such a huge undertaking, in terms of time, expense, and physical discomfort. I did it with the assistance of a professional SFX makeup artist, Andre P. Freitas of AFX Studios in Atlanta. The makeup alone, which was airbrushed, took about four hours. And then there was a steel-boned corset that made breathing difficult and contacts that blinded me when they were in. But it was worth it.
Anyway, yeah, sure. I would love to costume as a WoW character. I've even talked with various people about the problems that would be encountered. For example, it would be great to do a draenei, but there are a lot of mechanical and makeup problems that would have to be overcome. I'm a perfectionist when it comes to costuming. I did Nar'eth five times, between 2002 and 2004, and each time left me utterly exhausted. If I were to ever take on WoW costuming, I'd have to bring the same level of determination and obsession to it. Which means it'll probably never happen.
Caitlín R. Kiernan is the author of the award-winning novels, Silk and Threshold, and most recently, Daughter of Hounds and The Red Tree. Her short fiction has been collected in several volumes, including A is for Alien, Tales of Pain and Wonder, and the World Fantasy Award-nominated To Charles Fort, With Love.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" - neither did we, until we talked with these players. From an Oscar-winning 3-D effects director to a custom action figure artist and even a bunch of guys who get together for dinner and group raiding in person every week, catch it on 15 Minutes of Fame.